Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Community engagement in learning

Embedded image permalinkAs a network, community engagement in learning is an area we all recognised as important for many reasons. Hence, it has been one of our change priority areas since we were an LCN. 
As teachers we have all got into the community to extend classroom learning, see learning in context, in action, for real. Plus it's so much more fun! School trips are highlights of a school year.  

Embedded image permalinkAkoranga o Naenae  has been a success for engaging with our community at local, national and global levels. The biggest differences for us were 1) the varieties of experts that students connected with, 2) That students did most of the organising (finding experts and places, organising permissions, notices etc) and 3) the ways our learners connected with experts and places (social media, visiting people and places, email). It was a real lesson in resilience and creativity to firstly identify experts and places. Then  contact them. Then work out what to do if people didn't reply (still waiting on Jehn Cena and Taylor Swift among others). 

We see many benefits to supporting learning through engaging with community:
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  • Learn about the variety of people who can help our learning beyond whanau, teachers and friends
  • Discover how experts have deep knowledge about specific areas, great for students who also have deep knowledge as a starting point 
  • It brings whanau into learning as they are taxi drivers, photographers, ticket providers, support planners, connections to other experts...
  • Authentic reasons to write, search, express gratitude, problem solve, organise, be resilient and creative
  • Teachers are relieved of being the expert (especially about fishing, WWE, sprinting, scrap-booking and much more) when they really aren't - and don't want to be!
  • Being extra connected to our surroundings 
  • It's very exciting to contact your idol 
  • Best of all - every active learner trait is in action almost all of the time
So we thought we would share the experts and places our students have contacted this round as a way of saying thank you to those who bravely helped us, even when they didn't exactly know what was expected of them. We are so grateful to everyone who replied. And because we are so proud of our learners, we are inspired by the diversity and amount of people and places they have connected with! 
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Bunnings team

Blue Carrot chefs


Dan Carter
John Cena
Steven Adams
Jamie Oliver
Taylor Swift
Ussain Bolt
Nick Willis
Janet Evans
Varsily Sapunov
Annette Dougherty
Ash Wootton
Lindsay Hamilton
David Morrison
Maggie (Hills Hats)
Rosie Booth
Jessica Barlow
Brianna Barlow
Mitchell Barlow
Jen & Jolie (Dowse)
Annette Forbes
Chris Brown
Ed Sheeran
Marnie H
Jordan Kerr
Callaghan Innovation
Dowse Gallery
Mitre 10
Belmont school courts
Dyer Street School field
Carter Observatory
Hunting and Fishing
Wellington Zoo
Sea Cadets
Scrapbooking Central
Te Papa
British Air Force
Koru cafe
Zone Hairdressing
Premiere Hairdressing
Hutt Valley High School
Te Marua speedway
Petone Football
Sherrington Jewellers
Rock shop
ASB stadium
Wellington Lions
Pump Dance
Elite Dance
Hutt City Dance Centre
The Learning Connexion

It's a hive of activity when students are following their passions beyond the classroom: it feels messy, and frenetic, and like you have to be on top of a lot of stuff. And you do. It is all those things and more. Closely followed by inspired, excited, astounded and grateful. 

Community engagement in learning... it's worth every grey hair. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A word from our Scottish colleague:

International Akoranga o Naenae...

Thinking back to when I arrived in New Zealand 7 months ago,  education was the last thing on my mind. Having taught for nearly 16 years in the same school, my sole focus was to find my two children a fabulous school for 12 months, and luckily, have a year to myself! I was off the education treadmill as it had become, a time to refresh and recharge and hopefully find the original passion I used to feel for teaching. As the weeks went on and my kids came home with numerous stories about how different their school, classmates and teachers were, I became intrigued: What was so different? My shy, reserved children had settled really quickly and were highly motivated about their learning.

I inquired about volunteering to get a taste of Kiwi education and met Kelly Layton who, over a cup of tea,  gave me a quick overview of Akoranga o Naenae; even the name of the school had me fascinated. So I turned up that first Friday expecting to help out in a regular class. Instead I was thrown into something completely different! I had so many questions: how could one whole day (20% of a child’s week) be devoted to learning about one thing? What about accountability? How would they measure the impact of their teaching? What about literacy and numeracy?

My first visit was really scary, but exciting. I hadn’t taught or been in a school for months and this wasn’t the environment I was used to! ‘Active Learning’ – I knew all about that didn’t I? I had been planning lessons for years encouraging my students to be active learners. I quickly realised I had a lot to learn! Google Drive, Infinity Learning Maps – I hadn’t used any of these tools before. Bring it on!

After a few hours observing the students and the slick collaboration of the team,  I just thought WOW! Lots of thoughts and ideas were running through my brain. I had been inspired beyond words, which hadn’t happened in a long time. What Kelly, Clare and Natasha were doing was truly incredible. They totally believed in their school and approached it with so much positive energy that I couldn’t wait for the next week!

I’ve now been volunteering every Friday for months and have experienced both rounds of AoN. I have seen the teachers reflect on their own practice and evolve their programme for round 2 with Kerry now part of the team; I have seen how much more confident they are second time around and how much quicker the children seem to lead their own learning. I have learned so much…. about myself, my teaching, even the way I act around my own children.

Although I knew what Active Learning was and hoped my lessons were active, having it broken down into the 6 traits and their success criteria was totally enlightening. I was good at questioning my students, I gave them learning intentions, teased success criteria from them, helped them reflect on their learning, my lessons were fun but I still had some lethargic, unmotivated kids. Then it hit me… I still controlled the content, the pace and how challenging it was. The children at AoN were really motivated and engaged – why? THEY had a choice and they made the decisions. They knew the success criteria and were able to lead their project in their own time and way.   

As with a lot of teachers I like control; I like things to be organised and I have an almost compulsive desire to be in ‘the driving seat’. I now understand how detrimental that can be. It’s all about balance. As a teacher it’s about giving them a purpose to their learning; making life connections in every lesson and providing them with the skills of ‘how’ to learn, make decisions and solve problems!
An important lesson I have learned is to focus on the journey, how they’ve got there is more important than using the product as an indicator of their success. They use questions to connect their learning. What do they already know? How can they connect this learning to other contexts? Link the purpose of the other things they’ve learned and reflect, reflect, reflect. The team continually refer to themselves as learners, continually making links to the traits  and showing the students how they reflect and make connections. Reiterating the ‘common language’.

Creativity and the use of technology features hugely in their day. I liked how the planning for the next week was emailed to the students giving them opportunity to prepare and be focused. Nothing was a surprise. I noticed as the weeks went on more children seemed to access and view the daily planning. Was attending AoN changing behaviours?

The students are encouraged to use their IT skills to develop their project, whether exploring the web, emailing, blogging or creating a slide show. They are given the freedom and TIME to use technology for independent inquiry. I started to see the connections between different areas of learning, the interdisciplinary links; communication on the telephone, spelling, grammar and punctuation in emails inviting or thanking people, organising times to visit experts. I loved how the day was split up and planned, and breaking from the traditional method of time slots took away any barriers.  Using alliterative words, Activate, Action, Analyse and Afterwards made it easy for the students to remember and summed up exactly what being achieved!

Okay… with all thoughts of having a year away from education, I am more inspired than ever to get back into the classroom. I am really curious to see how this approach would work in a Scottish primary school and how I would go about implementing it.

Involving learners in their own learning seems pretty straightforward and is at the heart of Scottish Education and our ‘Journey to Excellence’. HMiE declares that a school will be rated excellent, where among many things -
  •         their learners have choices
  •         can demonstrate links with previous learning
  •         solve problems
  •         question
  •         show perseverance
  •         can use their learning out of the classroom
  •         are supported in their reflection
  •         are leaders in their own learning

Isn’t this exactly what AoN is all about? Where the teachers are role models reflecting on their own practice AND feedback from their students about how successful their lessons have been.
I am really excited to share this experience with my colleagues and our cluster network of schools and hopefully start identifying children who would really benefit from an AoN type approach, being able to make their own choices and control their learning, but with a guided framework. Letting them explore their passions and possibly finding some experts we didn’t know about!

Reflecting on my own classroom practice has made me think, I need to
·         give more ownership of learning to my students
·         make learning more challenging
·         including more creative and investigative opportunities
·         give the students the freedom to use technology to learn
·         make sure I fully demonstrate links with other areas of the curriculum
·         think about the questioning of my students and how this will lead to their own inquiry
·         give lots of time for reflection and not just use it as a plenary tool
·         allow my students some time to decide what and how they want to learn, but with responsibility of how they will demonstrate it
·         use my community more, tap into all the experts we are sure to have around our school and surrounding area, teachers don’t know everything!

Clearly there will be barriers, but I am an active learner and I will show resilience. I’ll let you know how it goes!!

Friday, 16 October 2015

The chance to try again...The AoN satellite school By Natasha

How often do we give our students the chance to try again? How often do we give ourselves the chance to try again? We often talk about reflection being an incredibly powerful component to learning but how often do we create an environment where reflections can be acted upon? 

Source: http://adultrunaway.tumblr.com/post/77406653992

Having worked with Kelly and Clare at Akoranga o Naenae in Term 1 and Term 2, this term I was excited to take my new learning back into class and act upon my reflections. In the AoN 'satellite school' there would be some differences and some things would stay the same. 

The differences: 
  • We would be based at a school, rather than in the community.
  • A new collaboration - this time I would learn alongside my fellow year 4 teacher.
  • The students would all be from the same school but it would give 2 classes the chance to collaborate with each other.
What would stay the same: 
  • The thinking that sat behind AoN i.e. students exploring their passions around a framework of active learning. 
  • The framework - students being exposed the interests they may not have considered --> selecting a passion to focus on --> planning their project: what do they want to find out? What tools, people and places will be useful? How will they share their learning? --> sharing their learning in a way that positively impacts on others. 
  • The involvement of experts: so far we have a parent who is supporting the cooking group and next week an explorer who just returned from an expedition to Antarctica. 

Reflections in action: 

Following a similar framework has provided the chance for refinement. One example of this is around the questioning phase of the projects. Jane and I decided that the questioning phase was an important part of the research process and that having well thought out questions would provide purposeful signposts for students to keep referring back to. Students came up with a whole range of questions, some of them related to the research process e.g. Who can I contact to help me with this? How will I know if I have been successful? Other questions were around their actual passion e.g. What are some really important inventions in history? We spent some time discussing what might be the most useful way to sort these questions, torn between process-and-passion and beginning-during-end. Through talking with the students it was clear to see they had an understanding of the difference between those questions which would help them to find out information and those that were about their passion so we went with beginning, during, end. The students found this grid (tweeted by  ) to be a useful tool for developing their questioning skills...

We also recognised that you don't always know what you want to find out at the start. Questioning is an ongoing part of finding out and new questions arise as you find out more. We want to encourage students to document their pivotal questions throughout the process. 

Giving our students the chance to act on their reflections: 

Going through the process again made me reflect on the value of allowing students to go through a process for a second time (even a third or forth). 

At the start of the year my class had a go at Mr e's line art. The complexity of the task meant they had to go again and again and again. More recently we did the star challenge. Again the high level of challenge meant that students made 6 or 7 attempts reflecting, adapting and modifying as they went along. Collaborative and reflective discussions were happening all around the room...

Student 1 - I think that line looks too long
Student 2 - Can you go back to the instructions and find where you made the mistake? Then have another go. 

Making the most the chance to try again...

In situations where this has had the most impact there have been some commonalities:

In both of the above cases, students had the chance to act on their reflections almost instantly. Does this mean it always needs to be instant? Perhaps not... but then we would need to help them make the connections so they can use their reflections. 

Collaboration: Working alongside somebody with a common purpose. 

I think the same could be said for students? 

High level of challenge: if the task is something that can be completed easily surely this removes the motivation to try again? 

Having the chance to use my learning from AoN, by going through a similar process; allowing the students to lead their learning, whilst explicitly teaching the skills of being an active learner, has given me the chance to put reflections into action! It's also got me thinking about how I make sure my students get the chance to use their reflections too! 

Monday, 31 August 2015

Why Would You? Kerry

  As the day of arrival for round 2 of our AoN students drew closer, I was excited, nervous and grateful to have the opportunity to be part of something I'd heard so much about from students, their whānau,Twitter posts and conversations amongst my colleagues.

I wondered  where I would  fit in and what I could  bring to this already highly successful team and evolving model?

 I'm still trying to figure the answer to this question out as we approach our  fifth week of working with our new group of students.What I know is that we  have a wonderful group of learners, who are connecting, risk taking, rising to the challenge of new learning and who have chosen and are now  beginning to explore their passion projects.Wow! what a wide range of diverse interest these active learners have ! It is very interesting and exciting..

Last term a student from AoN connected with me via e-mail  asking for help with her passion project. I was fortunate to spend the day with the students, leaders and whānau of AoN. I felt inspired and left reflecting on the students' high level of confidence and engagement in their learning, along with the passion and enthusiasm with which they had shared their knowledge with me.
 This struck home - as my own learning has been driven by passion, creativity and resilience.
I believe these traits underpin my achievements and richest experiences in life.
Reflecting on my teaching practice, I've  realised that this thread of creativity, passion and resilience runs through my most effective teaching moments and is when student engagement has been high.

  My teaching background is varied.  I've taught at all levels and worked alongside many
wonderful teachers and leaders.  Much of my teaching has been focused around The Arts and I have a particular interest in supporting all students to develop their creative potential. I also understand that there are many ways to be creative and 'creativity ' is not exclusive to, but rather inclusive of The Arts.

  I have been reading with interest the changes in education and in particular  the 'shift to student led learning and the need for teachers to "trust that students know what they need to learn", and for us to "let go" of the need to control all aspects of a student's learning.

Personally, I like knowing exactly what is expected of me and what I need to 'do,' so when things change and appear unclear it does get  'a little scary, uncomfortable and I need to remind myself to trust.

  My perspective in teaching comes from 15 years plus of part-time teaching and working in and out of other teachers' classes. Change is part of everyday life. Working like this has taught me a lot about 'how to teach' rather that 'what you teach' and how to learn and work alongside students and other teachers.  As I continue to develop my understanding of Active Learning traits and Future Focused Education with a shift from 'acquiring lots of knowledge' to 'developing a set of transferable skills' my thoughts are affirmed.

I've been viewing Ted Talks by John Hattie about "Why So Many Of Our Schools Are So Successful?" and by Grant Lichtman "What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills" , and I've learnt a new word "Cognitosphere". I've been learning about "Growth mindset vs fixed" and  I've just read an interesting article online by Barbara Challenger called "Building The Future Today: The Need For Creativity In Education".  She talks about "...the future..." being  "...shaped by the creative talents of inspired well educated children".  She goes on to define creativity as "...a process of having original ideas that have value".  Involving "...the imagination, vision, taking risks and being prepared to be wrong"


And so
    as I join the team at AoN 
        I wonder....

  • What will the creative process look like at AoN where students are leading, making their own decisions about their learning and are following a passion?
  • What is the link between raising student achievement and creativity?
  • How will students transfer skills learnt at  AoN between communities ( school, home etc..)and will we see this reflected in raised student achievement?
  • Will the students get what they need from the active learning model vs a curriculum led one?
  • What will it be like to teach in a supportive co-teaching environment instead of alone?
This is very exciting...
        So many questions
                So much to read...
                        So much to learn...
                              And now to answer, 
                                        " why would you?
Simply another question...
                         "Why would you not?"

Thursday, 27 August 2015

So ... Did It Work?!

This is a period of transition for us here at Akoranga o Naenae, as we finish our evaluations of Round 1 and begin anew with 48 eager students for Round 2.

As we said at the beginning, Akoranga o Naenae is based on a hunch, with the main principles well researched.  Now we wanted to determine whether or not AoN has proven itself effective.  Our chief supporters, our network leaders, are realistic and experienced people.  They know that change takes time, and have not put unfair expectations on us.  However, we always knew that we would have to prove ourselves pretty quickly to ensure that we could continue AoN.  As such, the evaluations from Round 1 have been much anticipated (particularly from data geeks like me!) Keep in mind we had (only) 14 days with our learners. 

As with most things at Akoranga o Naenae, when considering methods for collecting evaluations, we tried to think outside the box.  As there was not one tool that was going to give us all the information we needed, we used a variety of tools, and we asked everyone who had been involved for their perspective.  These included self-assessment, questionnaires, video recordings, and reflective discussions.

We started with the most important players - the students.  Way back at the

Start of Round 1
beginning of AoN, we had asked the students to do a self-assessment, indicating their knowledge of the active learner traits, and their understanding of when they show these traits themselves.  We then asked them to complete the same self-assessment at the end of AoN.  By turning their answers into numerical ratings, based on a pre-determined criteria, we could compare the beginning and end data.  This showed that:

  • the students were more able to articulate what active learning was after working with us at AoN for 14 weeks (total score at the end of 81 points, compared with 49 points at the beginning) 

= 65% improvement

  • the students showed an improvement in their ability to describe when they are active learners in real life situations (79 points at the end; 47 at the beginning)

End of Round 1
= 68% improvement

  • the students were able to explain why active learning is important and relevant to their lives (especially now, not just in the future).  This was the area that we knew the students found the most difficult, and we had worked hard on, so we were pleased to see a total of 51 points at the end of AoN, compared with 33 points at the beginning

= 54% improvement

These three key points showed us that the learning had been effective for many of our 48 learners.  Bearing in mind that many, if not most, of these kids are priority learners, whatever impact we had (positive or negative) was always going to be important.  We were pretty excited by this results, and proud of what we all had achieved over 14 days.  It gives us more confidence to hope (as we always have) that AoN might end up being one of the things that leads to improved academic success for some of these students.  We have anecdotal evidence from several kids, families, and leaders to say that they have seen just that.  Kids telling us about how they used not to be at the National Standard, and now they are; parents describing their child as 'sky rocketing' at school; and leaders collating data on their eight AoN students, showing significant improvements in reading, writing, and maths.

We used Infinity Learning Maps as an assessment tool throughout our time at AoN, and these provided us with very interesting data, too:

Learning maps #1, #2 and #3
  • as students became more active in their learning, the number of connections with people outside of their normal 'bubble' became much larger.  This then decreased as the students became more purposeful/specific in their questioning
  • students came to better understand how technology can help them connect and learn
  • the students became more aware that learning happens everywhere, not just in a classroom

Students' survey
Our third method of collecting student evaluations was through a survey.  The main themes were:
  • the students loved getting to know others from the network and working with them
  • they appreciated what the community space could offer
  • they really enjoyed the food we had on our Learning Maps days!!

We also asked our schools' leaders for their evaluations of AoN, with a questionnaire targeting specific areas of interest to us, as well as giving them room to add other thoughts.  This is a small sample size, with only six schools in our network, but their comments were thoughtful, considered, and helpful to us.  These included:

  • a concern that the 'off-site' nature of AoN appears to imply that schools are not able to cater for their priority learners (which we know is not the case, but those making such an inference may not realise that)
  • the difficulties with transferring the active learning ideas from AoN into school classrooms, despite a variety of efforts
  • the workload on the teachers at AoN, particularly at the beginning and in the set-up phase
  • the effectiveness of connections with whanau
  • the increased "student agency" that was seen in some AoN students back at their schools (for example, at ine school some students starting a coding club. At a different school, students coaching younger sports teams)
  • the benefit of having another 'shared purpose' amongst the network schools

Some the Leaders Questions of

When asking whanau for their evaluations, we mostly used video recordings to capture their thoughts about AoN, and its impact for their child.  These resulted in some very heart-warming moments, and some honest truths.  The highlights were:
  • hearing that students had developed their own 'drive' to learn
  • confirming the fact that the students were motivated by the power of choice
  • believing that AoN had contributed to an improvement in academic success at school

Some of the teacher questions
The next group we wanted to get evaluations from was the teachers of these students back in their own schools.  We have been really interested in how the skills they had been developing at AoN could transfer back to other areas of the students' lives.  We asked teachers to fill in a quick online survey.  The teachers who did so gave us some useful feedback, including:
that some students clearly understood the link between their learning at AoN and school, while others did not

  • the enjoyment that most students got by learning about their passion
  • that we have not made clear enough to some teachers the basis for AoN 

Lastly, Natasha, Kelly, and I did our own evaluation.  We knew there were a lot of positives that would come from this, as we had been there each day, seeing the change in the students.  These positives were tempered with some points for future improvement.  We are active learners who reflect!  The main themes were:

AoN teacher evaluation
  • the difficulty in striking the right balance between too much and not enough communication with teachers and leaders
  • the tensions caused by some people in the network being more engaged than others
  • the difficulty with wifi!
  • the high workload
  • the incredible professional development that AoN was for each of us
  • the benefits of AoN being held in a community space
  • the significant observable changes in the learners from Day 1 to Day 14

So, overall, did AoN 'work'?  Did the 14 days we spent together make a difference to these students?  Did it help them to build skills and understanding about how they can enhance the way they learn in all areas of their lives?  It sure did!  In the words of one of our students:  "Akoranga o Naenae changed my life".

As active learners ourselves, we're not stopping there!
We have been cogitating over all of this evaluation data, considering our next steps, and contemplating about how what we've learnt so far can help us in Round 2 and beyond.  The main points we will be working on are:
  • the possibility of co-constructing success criteria for our Active Learning trait assessments with students,
  • the purpose of each planning, assessment, and evaluation tool, and how to best use these,
  • how we can streamline the whole time-frame (and we have to, as Round 2 is only 12 weeks!), and ...
  • continuing to try to find ways to make transference between AoN and schools understandable and practicable for leaders, teachers, and students

How do you feel about AoN finishing?

This is just a snippet of what we wanted to say.  If you have any questions or want further information, please contact us.  We'd be really excited to talk about these evaluations in more depth.